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Kragthorpe: BYU better fear Bulldogs' formidable bite

Published March 19, 2011 11:24 am

Gonzaga • This isn't your ordinary No. 11 seed, Cougars — this one's strong and tenacious.
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Forget everything you've learned about the Gonzaga Bulldogs of the past. Ignore the number next to their name right now.

The basketball program that's opposing BYU in Saturday's third round of the NCAA Tournament at Pepsi Center long ago outgrew the overachieving stage. Overwhelming is a better description for how the No. 11-seeded Bulldogs treated No. 6 St. John's in an 86-71 victory Thursday.

Even if Salt Lake City product David Stockton labeled the victory "another one for the GU books — that's what we do around here," the Bulldogs have advanced beyond the point of upsets in this tournament. With intimidating size and growing confidence, these guys hardly resemble a usual No. 11 seed — to a degree that would make a win for No. 3 BYU surprising.

St. John's coach Steve Lavin was suitably impressed, calling Gonzaga "definitely a Final Four-capable team … as good as anyone we faced this year."

This game would be more intriguing with suspended center Brandon Davies playing for BYU, but it still should be fun.

The Cougars will face former Utah coaches Ray Giacoletti and Donny Daniels, plus a point guard from the John Stockton family.

BYU is ticketed to join Gonzaga next season as a marquee program in the West Coast Conference.

"We're going to try to show each other what the league's going to be like next year," David Stockton said.

Although this is BYU's only shot at the Bulldogs with Jimmer Fredette, the Cougars' timing is not the best. Gonzaga (25-9) is hot, having recovered from a downturn in late January to win 10 straight games.

Ask anybody — including Giacoletti and Daniels, in separate interviews — what's behind the resurgence, and Stockton makes the list. The Bulldogs were already big and talented inside, but they lacked the backcourt consistency now provided by Marquise Carter, who scored 24 points against St. John's, and Stockton in reserve.

Having lived in Utah through sixth grade, when his father retired from the Jazz and moved home to Spokane, Wash., the third of six Stockton children has emerged as a redshirt freshman. The former walk-on is only 5-foot-11 and 152 pounds and was deep on the bench as of midseason, but Stockton's role increased to 28 minutes in the WCC tournament title game.

"He looks like he's 12, but he has a great feel for the game," Giacoletti said.

Daniels was a Utah assistant in 1998, when the Utes played for the NCAA championship, and recently accompanied UCLA to three consecutive Final Fours before moving to Gonzaga this season.

"I've been blessed to be a part of some great, great teams, and there's no difference," Daniels said. "They know what they're supposed to do, everybody cheers for one another, no one's envious of somebody else's success. … It's good to be playing your best basketball right now."

Gonzaga coach Mark Few is known for making that happen, having taken five teams to the Sweet 16. Fired after three seasons as Utah's coach in 2007, Giacoletti soon joined his longtime friend.

"It's been unbelievable," he said. "I couldn't have asked for more. It took me — I'm not going to lie to people — probably a year to get my mojo back, but Gonzaga's a little bit different place. … They take care of their own."

Giacoletti's contract with the Utes had four years remaining. So, in a sense, his last day on Utah's payroll will coincide with the end of Gonzaga's season. Will that come against BYU?

Only if there's an upset.

kkragthorpe@sltrib.com —

Monson: Cougars,Jimmer wearing down

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